Montana enviro: Fight coal exports, trains

An enviro throws the kitchen sink against coal exports.

Jan Hoem of Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow writes in the Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA):

Imagine 40 coal trains a day added to the trains now moving through our communities. Coal companies are hard at work to make this happen.

As the United States retires coal-fired power plants and switches to cleaner fuels, the coal industry seeks new buyers in Asia’s fast-growing markets. Vast amounts of coal would be shipped by rail across Northwest states to the Pacific Coast and on to Asia. We think this deserves a closer look.

The Powder River Basin in Eastern Montana and Wyoming holds billions of tons of coal, owned or leased by Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and others. The companies are pushing for huge new coastal terminals to be built near Bellingham and Longview to handle increased shipments primarily bound for China. Coal would be hauled on BNSF Railway and Montana Rail Link track.

The increase in train numbers depends on many factors. Based on combined terminal projections, 110 million tons of coal yearly would require more than 40 dedicated trains a day (20 loaded, 20 returning empties).

China and bordering Mongolia have abundant coal reserves. However, China recently became a net importer of coal, mainly to fuel hundreds of coal-fired power plants and to manufacture exports.

Coal is a risky business. In the 1980s, Los Angeles and Portland built terminals to ship coal to Asia. Prices fell, the terminals closed, and both cities lost millions.

Those who live along the rail lines that would carry the coal through Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington share concerns about the hidden costs to health, safety, the environment and pocketbook.

• Railroad engines burn diesel. Documented health effects of diesel emissions near busy rail yards (Spokane and Portland) include chronic heart and lung disease, and asthma. The very young and elderly are most affected. Cancer is also implicated.

• Pollution released from burning coal, including toxins like mercury, is carried from China and elsewhere back to us on worldwide air currents. Contrary to the coal industry’s barrage of “clean coal” ads, coal remains the dirtiest major fuel. The United States just passed a law limiting mercury and toxic emissions from power plants. China has no such law.

• Waiting up to 10 minutes at rail crossings in bisected communities may only be an inconvenience, unless an ambulance, firetruck or wildfire is involved. Then minutes count.

• Trains disrupt people’s sleep, affecting their alertness and health. Whistles and the noise of cars coupling can be heard for miles.

• Property values are affected by rail traffic, noise and limited access.

• Increased train/vehicle collisions are linked to the number of trains.

• Some rail infrastructure upgrades will be paid for by communities and the federal government.

• The rail industry says 500 pounds or more of coal dust per car is lost in transit. That can destabilize rail beds, contributing to derailments. Are mitigations adequate?

• Burning billions of tons of coal will increase greenhouse gases that can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, warming the Earth, with devastating results. This goes against worldwide efforts to break the fossil fuel habit. The best way to protect the climate is to stop the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels, coal being by far the worst.

Are we more concerned about the profits of coal companies than the future of our children and grandchildren? With these terminals, we make a choice for future generations. Let’s hope we make the right one…

Read the entire screed.

One thought on “Montana enviro: Fight coal exports, trains”

  1. The rail industry also provides thousands of high-paying jobs. (I worked 21 years for a major railroad, but left that job 20+ years ago.)

    Rail employees, most of whom work near diesel locomotives, do not have any unusual rates of asthma or lung cancers.

    Homes and buildings located near rail tracks can be upgraded with sound proofing (that also adds insulation value, reducing heating and cooling costs), etc. The owners, can afford the upgrade(s) due to the increased economic activity related to the movement of coal through their communities.

    Separated vehicle/train crossings can be built. There are programs, funded jointly by the railroads, state, local, and federal government that help with the cost of construction of over or underpasses.

    Most rail infrastructure improvements are paid for by the railroads. Only improved road crossings (where roads are most commonly owned and paid for by the government) will add to government costs. Of course, the increased economic activity and the rail properties will generate tax revenues that assist in paying for infrastructure upgrades.

    AGW is a fear-based meme being used by the left to inflict reductions in liberty on the population. There is no verified scientific proof that human use of fuels that generate carbon dioxide contribute significantly, if at all, to changes in global temperatures and climate.

    Profits earned by coal companies (and all other companies) support our economy and generate private industry jobs. Only private industry creates value that is taxed to support government. Without private industry profits, we can not have government, since there will be no taxes to pay the costs of government. Governments do not create anything of value, it only takes value from the private creation of wealth. Profits also support workers and investors (including pension funds that pay both private and government worker pensions).

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